MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin had such a good time in its opener, even new coach Gary Andersen decided to have some fun.
It wasn’t hard for the 23rd-ranked Badgers to enjoy themselves after overpowering Massachusetts 45-0 on Saturday afternoon in Andersen’s debut.
Melvin Gordon ran for 144 yards and a 70-yard touchdown, James White added 143 and a 51-yard score, and the revamped defense throttled UMass.
“Today was the first game. It was sort of special to me and will be forever,” Andersen said.
With the score 38-0 at the end of the third quarter, the only Wisconsin tradition left to put this season opener in the books was for the stadium public address system to blare House of Pain’s “Jump Around” to get the fans in the stands hopping for the fourth quarter.
And look who was on the field, too, for a moment of levity while conferring with his defense during that break.
“I think the ‘Jump Around’ a little bit, he got out there and mixed it up with us, so that was fun,” linebacker Ethan Armstrong said. “That’s really rewarding as a player to see your coach, just day in and day out be the same and always have that energy and that intensity.”
Newly-minted starting quarterback Joel Stave overcame a slow start to connect with receiver with Jared Abbrederis for two long touchdowns in the second half.
It was 31-0 with 10:31 to go in the third quarter by the time White sauntered through the line untouched and into the end zone for a 51-yard score.
UMass was simply overmatched against the Big Ten’s three-time defending champion. The Minutemen are only in their second year as a major college program, and the spread offense was minus two of its top players Saturday with running back Jordan Broadnax and tight end Rob Blanchflower out with injuries.
“Wisconsin is an awfully good football team,” UMass coach Charley Molnar said. “We’re not there yet.”
They were relatively close at the half, down only 17-0. Wisconsin helped with a few of their own mistakes, including a missed field goal.
Then the Badgers opened it up with three touchdowns in the third quarter.
Stacey Bedell finished with 70 yards on 19 carries for the Minutemen, who were also tripped up by a few pre-snap penalties. UMass finished with seven flags for 40 yards.
“Even if we were running on all cylinders, we would have been hard-pressed to get 10 points,” Molnar said. “With us not running on all cylinders, you see it was impossible for us.”
Wisconsin couldn’t have scheduled a better opponent for Andersen to make first appearance on the Wisconsin sideline. He sported a black visor and a white pullover on a warm, sticky afternoon, appearing calm and cool on the sideline.
Andersen replaced Bret Bielema, who left in December to take the Arkansas job. Andersen arrived from Utah State, where he led the Aggies to a school-record 11 wins in 2012.
Andersen promised the running game would remain a big part of the Badgers attack, even with standout Montee Ball now gone. But new regimes always bring questions as to how a team might look, at least until actual games are played.
Well, the running game remains alive and well at Wisconsin. Even backup Corey Clement ran for 101 yards on 16 carries, mainly in the second half.
Gordon got 13 carries while White had 11.
The Minutemen didn’t actually flaunt a sturdy defense to begin with. UMass gave up more than 40 points a game last season.
At Wisconsin, Andersen switched the base defense to a 3-4 scheme, and the Badgers showed no problems picking it up Saturday.
After Stave’s 4-yard touchdown run gave Wisconsin a 7-0 lead, Brendan Kelly forced a fumble on the next series. It was recovered by Armstrong, who finished with five tackles, while fellow senior linebacker Chris Borland had nine stops.
Stave was intercepted on a deep pass down the middle by Devin Brown on the next play. He was 4 of 11 at the half with 36 yards.
But he recovered in the second half, helped by adjustments by Abbrederis on both of his long touchdown catches that were slightly off target. Burning his defender each time in man coverage, Abbrederis’ scores came from 65 and 57 yards.
“We came out at halftime and said … that if it’s up in the air and it’s close, Abbrederis is going to come down with it most of the time,” Andersen said.
Stave finished 9 of 17 for the game for 197 yards.
As lopsided as the score was, Andersen knew he definitely had to improve in one area next week.
“I would not say we are game ready (in) singing ‘On Wisconsin,’” said Andersen, referring to the school’s fight song. “We’ve got a ways to go.”